HAWTHORN great Shane Crawford says Alastair Clarkson will deserve to be mentioned in the same class as legendary coach John Kennedy if the Hawks can secure a second premiership under his stewardship.
Crawford, the former brilliant midfielder and 1999 Brownlow medallist, didn't always see eye to eye with Clarkson during their time together.
But he believes Clarkson would earn the ultimate club accolade of comparison to the uncompromising Kennedy, the man who injected toughness into the Hawks in the 1960s, if he can steer his team to victory in tomorrow's preliminary final against Adelaide and then prevail next week.
"Yeah, and there aren't many coaches that totally bottom out (the playing list) and then totally rebuild, because normally, whilst you are doing that, another coach is knocking on the door saying: 'Let me take over now after you have done all the hard work'," Crawford said.
Clarkson inherited an unbalanced list when he took on the job heading into the 2005 campaign.
The Hawks would cull several senior players, many of whom were good friends with Crawford, who had been captain for six seasons with little team success until the steely Clarkson took over.
Crawford initially struggled to deal with the decision to axe several of his senior teammates but, as the side rose from 14th in 2005 to a flag in 2008, he understood why this, and the need to add a greater resolve to the team and club, had been necessary.
Kennedy had done a similar thing when he took charge in 1960 and he would finish with three flags in 1961, 1971 and 1976.
The legendary Allan Jeans would also claim three premierships at Hawthorn but he had been able to build on the good work of Kennedy and predecessor David Parkin.
Clarkson, though, had to fashion a major rebuild.
"When you look at what he (Clarkson) has done, he had to totally rebuild," Crawford said. "He had to make really hard calls in the first couple of years and play youth and guys that weren't ready which takes a lot of courage. You are flirting with your coaching career. He did all the hard yards, so he needed some kind of success to keep him going for his lifespan as a coach."
That came with the 2008 premiership in what was to prove Crawford's final match.
Clarkson, in conjunction with his coaching and recruiting departments, has since had to redesign the team and his game plan after missing the finals in 2009 and finishing seventh a year later.
"From Hawthorn's point of view, they have really backed Alastair Clarkson in," Crawford said, although that was questionable last year when former president Jeff Kennett made him wait for a contract extension.
"From Clarko's point of view, it's been the sign of reliance. He has been able to get them to the top, then he had to rework the list."
Crawford said Clarkson's ability to instil a team-first ethos, and have all players embrace his game plan, the latest being a high-possession style relying on pristine kicking, had been arguably his greatest strength.
"He is tough, he expects nothing but a team focus and that's what brings out the very best at Hawthorn," he said.
"When you have got players like (Lance) Franklin and (Cyril) Rioli, a lot of coaches would probably give them the leeway to do their own thing. It's just a well-oiled machine. Everyone knows what to do.
"Even their best players are totally focused on how they can help the side.
Crawford said the key to the Hawks toppling the Crows and enjoying spoils of their own would key midfielders Sam Mitchell and Brad Sewell.
"It's not forward, it's not back, it's those two in the midfield," he said. "That was proven against Collingwood and it's been proven all year. When those two go well, Hawthorn normally wins the match."
The Hawks lost the contested-ball count despite defeating the Crows in round three but hardnuts Mitchell and Sewell are now in career-best form.
"They have been so crucial, winning the contested footy," Crawford said.
"They can use the ball well, keep the ball moving forward, do the right things at the right time under immense heat and pressure."